I should’ve known Pixar had a few hidden tricks up their sleeve for this one. We’ve known for some time that Onward centers around two elvish brothers on a quest to find some trace of magic left in the world connected to their deceased father, which is a relic of an idea that traces back to director Dan Scanlon’s real life experience of finding an old object containing a memory of his own dad.
Now, we see this “quest” has a few curveballs, as shown in the trailer. Looks like the “magic” object is a staff, and there are some cartoony rules that dictate how and when their dad can actually come back to life. So it’s a blend of Brave and Coco in that respect.
At first glance, this familiarity worries me. How many times have we seen kids in Pixar movies trying to beat a deadline to save their parent, or the other way around? It’s well-worn plotting at this point for the studio, but this is a unique enough setting to keep me interested, plus the two main characters (voiced by Chris Pratt and Tom Holland) have no shortage of charm and chemistry to make this one a proper Pixar feels trip.
The “modern mythological” setting is still a blast to discover and learn new details about, including the gag of pixie bikers harassing the dad corpse. Speaking of which, said corpse is a fun nod to Weekend at Bernie’s, which is one of many references to 80s pop culture in the movie we can connect back to Scanlon’s work on Monsters University. There’s a reason that “Quests of Yore” spell book closely resembles a Dungeons and Dragons manual, which for me is just brilliant world building.
The look, feel, and energy of this movie is just so Monsters University, down to the humor itself. As a lot of you know, I absolutely adore that film despite its baggage as a prequel, so this familiar tone only boosts my expectations for a road trip movie with enough twists and turns to make the latest original story from Pixar a positive step forward for their brand.
Pixar Theory stuff:
- The voiceover narration says that “in times of old, the world was filled with wonder and magic.” This might squash any early speculation that Onward takes place in the future, post Monsters Inc., but all that said, it’s hard not to notice a lot of similarity in design between some of these characters and “Monsters.” One era Pixar has never really covered is the long stretch of time between WALL-E and Monsters Inc., so take that as you will.
- The “Visitation Spell” sounds pretty similar to the rules of how the dead can visit the living for “one day” in Coco. And we see the same sort of thing in Brave with how the “wisps” are implied to be spirits of dead ancestors.
- At minute 1:29, you can just barely spot an ad in the gas station referencing Poultry Palace, a fast food restaurant seen in Toy Story 4 and the Toy Story short “Small Fry.”
- In the gas station scene that follows, you can clearly see “Triple Dent Gum” being held by the pixie uttering “you got a problem, Shades?” This particular gum brand traces back to Inside Out, of course. Don’t act like you forgot the theme song…
- At minute 1:38, you can see a formation of rocks that resemble not just Stonehenge, but the rock formation where Merida encounters the wisps for the second time in Brave.
- The tavern is full of creatures that resemble monsters, as noted before. Worth considering if this movie shows us an early inception of how the monsters came to be, but it’s hard to square that sort of assumption with the movie’s established vibe of European folklore. Plus, we would have to explain those two moons, and writing it off as some sort of alternative universe just seems boring to me.
Did I miss anything? Of course I did. Let me know what stuck out to you in this trailer by commenting below.